At least once per day, the newsroom’s phones ring or we’ll receive an online message informing us of one case or more of novel coronavirus at a local business, retail store or restaurant.

Early in the pandemic, when cases were first creeping into Northeast Tennessee, it made sense for the Press to investigate such tips and report those based in fact.

But now that COVID-19 is spreading rapidly through the region, especially here in Washington County, specific situations are only news if they represent a cluster of cases, force a business to close or result in an official health alert.

That’s because at this stage of the pandemic, if you go anywhere in public, the probable presence of COVID-19 is growing. The latter is certainly true in such urbanized centers as the Nashville area where about 5,000 known active cases stand in Davidson County alone — emphasis on the word known.

Here in these upper eight counties, known active cases have grown by 60.31% in the last seven days alone. In Washington County, that rate is at 79.26%. Again, the emphasis is on the word known.

That tells us that if you’re anywhere in public on a frequent basis — whether visiting a grocery store, the mall, a restaurant, a pharmacy, a home improvement store, a church or all of the above — COVID-19 could be in the mix. You are likely to be within close proximity of someone with the virus at some point during the week. If that’s not an absolute now, it will be soon.

So rather than worry about which location might have a case or two, treat every public setting as if COVID-19 is right in your face.

That also applies to the homes of family and friends. Your guard must be up anywhere except in the privacy of your own home, and even there, it’s wise to practice frequent cleaning and hand-washing to protect family members and vice versa.

Limit the frequency of your trips out when possible. Buy a week’s worth of groceries and other goods in one trip. Use pick-up lanes or delivery services where available. If you dine out, take advantage of restaurants that follow social distancing practices. Choose businesses that enforce the local mask mandates and have strict precautionary compliance among employees. Avoid at all costs those businesses who don’t.

If you manage or own a business open to the public, enforce compliance at the door and throughout your location — both for employees and the public. If your business has a host of cases, shut it down.

Above all, everyone should wear a mask in public. You “freedom fighters” out there may not care about your own safety, but if you can’t treat your fellow citizens with enough respect to simply cover your mouth and nose, just stay home.

This country — and more specifically this particular community — cannot economically endure another widespread shutdown. That’s unlikely to occur, but certain sectors and individual businesses may find themselves back in that boat if people do not treat this critical juncture in the pandemic with the necessary seriousness.

Doing the right thing is a lot easier than living through a perpetual health and economic crisis.